The prompt is: What’s the most time you’ve ever spent apart from your favorite person? Tell us about it.
My favorite person, I guess I’d have to say, is my husband, Dale. Last January, he went into the hospital for knee replacement surgery. The surgery was on Jan. 4 (to coincide with my winter break!) and I visited him, of course, every day in the hospital until his discharge on Jan. 7. He took his furry companion, a blue teddy bear named “Harry” (after Harry Hanukkah), with him to keep him company. I had purchased this bear for him back in 1997 when he had to have cancer surgery. It was December and the gift shop was selling lots of holiday items. Harry wasn’t specifically for the holiday, but his color – blue, the “official” color of the Jewish 8-day celebration of Hanukkah – was just right for my Jewish husband. Harry has been a trusted companion ever since, when he has had to be hospitalized or undergo a procedure that keeps him in bed (or even when he’s bedridden at home!).
I have no such companion, and while Dale was in the hospital, I slept in the middle of our queen-sized bed. Our mattress sags a bit on the sides of the bed where we normally sleep, but right in the middle, there is a slight hump. Whenever he is gone, I sleep on it to even it out with the rest of the bed!
My husband had a nice large hospital room to himself, with a view of the surrounding neighborhood from a large window. Although he couldn’t get up to see the view (they did have him walking in the halls by the second day, with assistance), he could see the beautiful sunsets that displayed strips of orange, pink and red at 4:30 in the afternoon. During the day, when I looked out the window, I could see a golf course across the street. We had no snow and temperatures were somewhat mild, in the 40s, unusual for that time of year, so of course, there were those fanatic golfers who were brave enough to bear wind chills in the lower 30s to be out on the course.
Often in past years, Dale has taken golf trips in the spring with some buddies, and I usually enjoy the time alone. However, he’s never gone for more than a week. The longest we’d been apart prior to last winter was when my son and I went with a college group to Costa Rica in the summer of 2004, for five weeks. And never again did my husband let me take a long trip without him!!
This separation was to be a full month, even though I could visit him every day. From the hospital, he went into a rehab center. Many insurance policies allow you to stay in such places after knee replacement surgery for 11-14 days maximum. However, in my husband’s case, he stayed for four weeks! There were two reasons for this: first, he’s on Medicare and their policies allow you to stay longer, and second, he had a slower recovery than was expected and could not be alone at home, since I work full-time and our house has three floors! Being an old house, it also has some small or weirdly shaped rooms which are hard for a person with a walker or cane to negotiate.
It being January, I would return from work and drive directly to the rehab center hoping I’d be able to find a parking place, and one that was close to the door if it was really cold outside. There were days in which commitments kept me away altogether. But usually I did go, at least for a short visit. Sometimes I’d have dinner with him, and they always brought me a free meal.
It got tedious to do this, after awhile. I admit that I sometimes could not think of anything to talk about! He had a little notebook next to his bed, a freebie in all the rooms at the rehab center, and each day, I tried to write an uplifting message or something funny. There were also weekly newsletters which had crossword puzzles that we would do together.
Harry was always on or next to his bed, or occasionally on the “swing” – a bar above the bed that was for traction! Dale didn’t have traction, fortunately for him, but he did have a machine that he had to use a couple of times each day, which would bend and flex his leg. At first, this machine really hurt because it forced him to bend his knee farther than he could without pain. Physical therapists took him daily to the therapy center where he did a variety of exercises, and they even had a cut-off front of a typical car, for patients to practice getting in and out of the passenger seat! He also had to do a daily 4-step staircase in the therapy room, to prepare him for stairs when he came home.
After about a week of him being in the rehab center, it started to get lonelier for me to be without him at home. It was a good time to take stock of all the things he normally does around the house, including reminding me to charge my phone, make shopping lists, etc. My husband also does the laundry every week – it’s easier for him, because his computer is in a small room next to the laundry room in the basement, and most of the cooking, I must confess. This all started when I was so busy with teaching that I had no time to do housework. Last year, that was not the case, but I had by then realized that he doesn’t clean up very well after cooking, so we fell into the routine of him cooking and my cleaning up afterward.
My son was living at home at that time, and while his dad was in the hospital, he got fired from his job for being late to work on New Year’s Day! He went into a funk and was pretty much useless except when I implored him to take out the garbage or do some heavy work in Dale’s absence. He hardly stayed at home, hanging out with friends, drinking, smoking, (including pot), then coming home in the early morning and sleeping all day. I started having very simple meals, because there was no point in cooking for one, since my son preferred energy drinks and fast food to a home cooked meal. I would make a sandwich, fry an egg, or throw a salad together. I’d then eat on a portable table in front of the TV and watch all the shows I had previously recorded. I got lazy and didn’t write much even though I had the time. I also didn’t do any organizational projects I’d had in mind to do.
When Dale got stronger, I occasionally took him out for dinner. The first time I did this, we went to the restaurant right next door to the rehab center – in fact, the restaurant’s parking lot served as overflow when there were no open parking spaces at the rehab center. I wheeled him over there in a wheelchair. It was so exciting – like a fancy night out, even though it was just a rather conventional family restaurant in town! The rehab center also hosted weekly Weight Watcher meetings, and we attended one of them. My husband even had someone support him so he could stand on the scale! He joked about weighing more due to his new metal knee!
Sometimes our daughter came in on the weekend, as she does often, to do her laundry at our house, then we’d go over to the rehab center and have dinner with him. On one of these occasions, a friend of mine had the idea of bringing over a Scrabble game. Our daughter likes Scrabble well enough, so we agreed to all join in a game.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work out very well. Our daughter was losing and put down a word she must have known was incorrect, but insisted she didn’t. The location of the word would have given her a triple word score. My friend of course challenged it, and I was willing to let her put down another word, but my friend said that the rules state that the loser of a challenge loses her turn. This made my daughter angry and animosity settled over the table between my daughter and my friend. I was caught in the middle, trying to gently defend each of them in turn, and feeling responsible for agreeing to the scheme in the first place. Eventually our daughter quit and therefore, so did her dad, since he really wanted to spend time with her.
My friend called our daughter a “poor sport” and while I tried to continue the game with just the two of us, I struggled to maintain objectivity. I realized my friend was very rigid in some ways, which was very annoying because I felt it was unnecessary. I was upset that she had sort of spoiled our afternoon, as an interloper, coming between me and my family. I actually avoided her for a couple of months after that, but now we are good friends again. I try to overlook her shortcomings, annoying as they are, because God knows, I have plenty of shortcomings of my own!
As for our son, he could only be prevailed upon to visit the rehab center one time, and that was only with much nagging on my part. However, after that first visit, he actually did something really nice: one morning, he actually got up early enough to “surprise” his dad with hot coffee from Starbucks! (The coffee at the rehab center was really weak and my husband missed good coffee so much). For our son, that was a lot, and I thought of it as sort of a redemption, but my husband wasn’t so ready to completely forgive him, even though he did appreciate the surprise visit and the coffee.
February 5 was homecoming day! It was a Sunday and I had straightened up the house as much as possible to make life easier for him. By that time, he was no longer using a walker, just a cane, and could go up and down stairs very slowly, one step at a time. He was lucky that the hospital that had done the surgery provided home physical therapists for patients after they returned home. They actually encouraged patients to return home directly after the surgery, but in our case, that was impossible. I had to work and our son could not be depended upon to take on the job of really taking care of his dad. So a physical therapist, that Dale humorously called his “torturer”, came a couple of times a week, then once a week, and after a few weeks, when she could measure the bend of his knee at 90°, she finished her work with him.
Dale couldn’t drive until March, but when he could, he began driving to a physical therapy rehab facility, Athletico, and continued physical therapy for another six weeks.
His joke (which he repeats ad nauseum to anyone who will listen) about this whole ordeal is that, when he scheduled the surgery in early January, he figured he’d be healed enough to be out on the golf course by the time golf season started in April, but last year we had an early spring, with temperatures in the 80s in the first half of March – so he missed the beginning of the golf season after all!